Looking to shape up this fall? Then ditch those Zumba classes and head out to Delaware Theatre Company’s current production of Ken Ludwig’s LEND ME A TENOR for a fun-tastic ab workout that relies heavily on the good old-fashioned belly laugh! Under Bud Martin’s meticulously-timed direction, DTC’s fabulous cast dishes up an evening of spectacular hilarity with a generous side of crackerjack physicality. It is one thoroughly side-splitting show.
Winner of 3 Tony Awards and 4 Drama Desk Awards, Ludwig’s oft-produced story borders on the ridiculous. Hey, it’s a farce of the finest kind — replete with over-sized characters, hard-to-swallow plot complications, mistaken identities and plenty of doors to slam. It opened on Broadway in 1989 and had a successful revival in 2010, starring Tony Shalhoub and Anthony LaPaglia.
This zany comedy is set in (of all places…) Cleveland in 1934. The Cleveland Opera Company is in a tizzy because world famous tenor Tito Merelli (aka “Il Stupendo”) (played by John Plumpis) is scheduled to perform Otello, his greatest role, at the gala season opener. Saunders (played with expert physicality and comic timing by Tony Braithwaite), the company manager, is worried about the evening going off without a hitch, so he orders his milquetoast, wanna-be-singer, assistant Max (Jonathan Silver) to babysit Merelli and get him to the theater on time. Il Stupendo arrives with his jealous wife, Maria (Tracie Higgins) in tow, and it’s clear that marital trouble is in the air. After Merelli fails to wake from a drug-induced nap, Max has no choice but to go on in his place, to perform a role he just happens to know by heart. The madcap in this romp really ramps up when a sexpot diva (Sarah Litzsinger), Max’s girlfriend, Maggie (adorably and sincerely played by Eileen Cella), haughty gala chairwoman, Julia (Marcia Hepps) and intrusive, opera-loving bellboy (Howie Brown) are added to the mix.
The DTC ensemble excels, but there are standouts. Sarah Litzsinger (platinum-blonde Diana, the ambitious soprano who is temperamentally the polar opposite of Otello’s chaste Desdemona!) plays double entendre scenes with Tito as perfect comic highlights. Marcia Hepps is very funny as opera patron, Julia Leverett, dying for a moment alone with Tito. Hepps plays her character with a natural wiftiness that is reminiscent of 1930’s star, Alice Brady; I really enjoyed every moment she was on the stage.
Plumpis is terrific as the world-weary Merelli. His performance as the befuddled tenor in the second act is natural and delightful. Silver’s hilarious (and mostly unwilling) Clark Kent transformation as he takes over the role of Otello (and “Tito”) makes for plenty of laughs throughout the night. The pair are especially captivating in the first act, when the tenor gives the aspiring singer a few singing lessons (the only off-note of the evening was having Plumpis and Silver sing, when neither could convince even a casual opera fan that one of them might win opera house ovations. (But, what the heck….it’s a fab farce…and the singing really doesn’t matter one note! The actors make us laugh and that’s really the whole point!))
Production values are stellar: Dirk Durosette’s fabulous Art Deco set, Alisa Kleckner’s costumes (which the cast is in and out of!), and Jim Leitner’s and John Stovicek’s lights and sound (respectively) are all first-rate.
The show runs through November 3rd. Hurry down to the Wilmington Riverfront and witness the rib-tickling, bed-hopping, door-slamming fun! (The curtain call alone is worth the price of admission! )
LEND ME A TENOR
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Bud Martin
October 16-November 3, 2013
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801